KEEPING THINGS ON AN EVEN KEEL
Once found only aboard big ships and megayachts, gyro stabilizers are now being fitted on boats under 40’.
By Ken Kreisler
Sea sickness. To the French, it’s known as le mal de mer; to the Spanish, la enfermedad del mar; even bahari ugonjwa, as uttered by our nautical brethren in Swahili, are some of the most dreaded words that mariners understand regardless of the language. It can bring most sufferers to their knees in humbling supplication to both the captain on the bridge and the heavens above to please, please, get them back to dry and not-moving and solid terra firma post-haste, if not sooner with the absolute and irrevocable promise of never, ever doing this again.
Besides possibly getting a good whiff of early morning diesel or gasoline exhaust combined with the previous night’s imbibing of copious and varying amounts of dissimilar adult beverages and just having to go for that last serving of lasagna, the often multi-directional pitch, roll, and yaw of a vessel underway, even in relatively calm conditions, can bring on the debilitating symptoms and resultant end product of the dreaded malady.
While the physiological causes of sea sickness are complex, involving the sensitive organs of the inner ear and our brains which can be dealt with somewhat by using an assortment of pills, remedies, and homeopathic and placebo-based therapies, getting your boat to stop, or at least significantly diminish, it’s up and down and side to side movement, which often occurs at the same time, is the key to a sure-fire cure.
Enter the idea of the gyroscope. Breaking it down to its most simplistic explanation, thus avoiding having to try to clarify what anyone except those capable of understanding such advanced concepts of physics as inertial moments, precession, and angular momentum, a gyroscope, once set into motion will stabilize any force that is trying to prevent it from remaining upright.
Take that one step further to a specialized device designed specifically for applications aboard a boat that when installed somewhere below decks inside your vessel, will result in a stabilization of motion without the need for drag-inducing, damage-prone external fins. As long as the gyro is kept spinning, the yawing and pitching; the up and down and back and forth and…well, you get the idea, will be significantly diminished.
While gyro stabilization has been around for quite a while, due to the large power consumption necessary to run them, and the weight and size of the units, they were limited to use aboard only large ships. But by applying the latest in technology, especially being able to spin the flywheel at high speeds in a near vacuum—higher spin speeds require a smaller flywheel which results in a more compact and energy-efficient piece of equipment—thus all but eliminating bearing and air friction, as well as supplying protection from the marine environment, the system is now available to a wider range of vessels.
“We are leveling the horizon for a larger range of boats now, and will continue to design and innovate. Our MX Series is an evolution in advance of the gyro revolution,” so says John Kermet, VP of sales and marketing for Seakeeper, the Maryland-based company, founded in 2002, that is in the forefront of the technology.
The MX Series Kermet refers to is designed for boats from 11m-13m/36’-42’ and has already been successfully installed aboard a 39’ Intrepid, a tender for the Abeking & Rasmussen-built Silver Cloud, a 40.8m/134’ megayacht. Seakeeper teamed up with Ocean5 Naval Architects and Intrepid to bring this design to practical use. The unit installed is the Seakeeper M8000. Among the other notable builders utilizing the other Seakeeper Gyro Stabilization Systems are Azimut, Fairline, Hatteras, Viking, Sabre, Tiara, Lazzara, and a long list of others.
Seakeeper units are of course readily available to new builds but are also, and in most cases, capable of being retro-fitted to existing boats. Take, for example, the job done on Finders Keepers, a 59’ 1979 Hatteras while the boat was being remodeled. The problem was finding a suitable space for the equipment. While the owners first balked at the thought—the typical unweighted 70-75dB(A) sound, as ascertained in the Seakeeper lab as well as with no wave load on its 43-foot Viking test boat—they found the sound barely noticeable, especially above that of the air conditioning. “Installing gyros under the master stateroom is unusual, but proves our flexible mounting options,” said Kermet. “To bring stability and more safety to a 33-year old classic yacht is rewarding.”
Indeed, the unit or units do not have to be installed on the vessel’s centerline to be effective. However, the space does need to have the proper structure and mounting capabilities to successfully transmit the gyros righting technique to the hull. Other considerations include having to run the unit off a genset while running or at anchor or, if necessary, on shore power while in the dock.
If you are thinking of installing this kind of equipment aboard your new build or adding it to your present vessel, Seakeeper has all the information and infrastructure at your disposal to assist with pricing, model need, positioning, and after care. And while you can watch the dramatic videos on its site, if you really want to experience what this kind of equipment can actually do, schedule an on-board sea trial. Keeping things on an even keel aboard your boat will definitely take on a new meaning. www.seakeeper.com